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I’ve worked from home for the past several years in one capacity or another. From consulting to remote work to a coveted weekly work-from-home day. I consider working from home a discipline, a privilege and responsibility.
I ran into a fellow marketing exec the other day who said she much preferred to work in the office than at home, because, “I always end up finding things to do at home that is not work.” I hear stories like this all the time, so I figured I’d share with you the five rules I have in my daily work routine to ensure that I am maximizing my work and minimizing interruption.
1. Get Dressed for Work
That’s right. Get up, get dressed, put on your work clothes. Daily, I put on high heels, jewelry and makeup. The heels are important because I learned during my prep school days that uncomfortable shoes keep us from getting too comfy — and stiff shoes keep us on our toes (literally).
2. Keep the Desk a Work Space
I have always had my desk as a command center for work. However, it’s not the family command center. Homework to be signed and kids projects don’t belong on my desk. They can leave that stuff on the kitchen counter. Every day I come to my desk, turn the light, sit down and work. My kids know that if I’m at that desk, I am not to be interrupted. My kids have even texted me from the backyard to ask me a question about this or that — mommy is working and I require that respect and space to work.
3. Schedule breaks
It’s impossible in my experience to work from home without wanting to water the plants or grab the mail when you hear it drop in the slot. I schedule three breaks in the day, just like I do at work. The first one is mid-morning. I do household work for a bit (water the plants, throw a marinade on the skirt steak for dinner). The second break is the good one: I go out for lunch. Yes, go out for lunch. I grab lunch where other working people are out, too. I sit down, enjoy my break, check my personal email, make a call or two. Later in the afternoon, I take a break when my kids get home. Most days, they’re running off with our beloved nanny to this-or-that sport or activity, but a quick cuddle is all any of us need.
4. Respect your work day
If you are as blessed as I am, you’ve got family and friends that would love to stop by, hang out, grab a late afternoon glass of wine. Communicating your work-day boundaries only take one brief sentence: “I’d love to but I don’t get out of work until 6.” Or, “I have about 45 minutes for lunch on Tuesday.” Respecting your work day enough to set boundaries for others has always helped me be most efficient in my work-from-home environment. They’ll get it. And, when you do meet, you’ll not have the guilt that you should be working.
5. Closed-Ended Days
If you’ve done it right, you’ve put in eight-to-10 efficient hours of work, and you’re exhausted. You should be. Leave your work day with the same amount of ceremony you began it. I shut off my computer completely. I don’t answer unscheduled work calls after my day is done. I turn off the lamp at my desk. I organize papers and to-do lists for the next day. I clear off coffee cups and scratch paper. I am done.
It doesn’t take a certain “type” of person to work from home — it just takes parameters to work within that drive the most efficiency, produce the best work possible, and reap the benefits from calling the homefront your work HQ.
In our family, Monday Night Football is sacred — always has been. For as long as I can remember, Monday nights meant eating dinner by the TV (a rarity!), and getting the chance to scream and yell and jump on the furniture. I have a memory of my mom jumping on the couch in her Oakland Raiders t-shirt that said “Property of Oakland Raiders” — it was grey and black and I thought she was so cool to have such a grown-up shirt. My grandmother, too, was a huge MNF fan, cozying-up to her little TV to watch MNF, but really only if Dallas was playing. Then it was Roger Staubach time — number 12, baby. GO DALLAS.
When Dallas plays Monday Night Football now, I bring out an old photo of my grandmother, place it in front of the TV, and put a beer and a handful of Lay’s potato chips beside her. Oh yeah, we’re a little nuts, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.
During the NFL season each year, I have a Monday Night Football open house. I make a big, giant pot of somethingruther because I am not about to be sitting in the kitchen while everyone else watches the game. Chili, enchiladas, make-your-own tacos or a big, kitchen-sink salad are always waiting in the kitchen. You can find me and my kids plunked in front of the TV, just like my parents did when I was a kid. We cheer and scream and let out all the inappropriate loud noises we can’t burst out with at work and at school: “OFFSIDES, SUCKERS!,” howls my daughter, while my son, intense as ever, wearing his Brady or Crabtree jersey, fist pumps with a defiant “WHAT A HIT!” It’s our unspoken permission to let it all go.
Every Monday night during NFL season, I feel the sense of family all around — tradition runs deep with us, and football is no exception.
So if you’re in the neighborhood this season, stop on by for a Monday Night Football fete — the food the people and the TV are all warm, the beer is cold and we’ll be waiting for you.
I sat glued to my computer this week, listening to every single tid-bit I could take in from this week’s TechCrunch Disrupt. In years past, I’ve gone rooting for my buddies, cheered-on technologies, and, looked-up phrases I’d never heard of (“Crowd-sourcing” first sounded like some kind of flash mob to me).
This year, the intake was just as intense — big and bold and full of life and technology I could eat-up like a still-warm chocolate chip cookie.
And that’s it. Each of the companies at TechCrunch Disrupt this week had something in common: a solid foundation. A great startup has the makeup of a great chocolate chip cookie, using all kinds of awesomeness to make our lives better and leave us wanting more and more.
Like all great bakers know, flavors can change, textures can vary and bake time can alter density, but all have the same core ingredients.
The foundation of a great startup and a great cookie are the same: a solid base, some grease to make things run smoothly, a leavening agent to make things rise, and, of course, a sweet overtone.
Chocolate Chip Recipe for Startups
2 1/4 c. flour to create a solid foundation for the problem you are solving
1 t. baking soda to make the idea rise and grow with purpose
1 t. salt to take when your idea gets bashed
1/4 c. white sugar for addictiveness
1 c. light brown sugar to give the product some richness
2 sticks butter to grease-up users and make their user experience smooth
2 eggs to bind the concept to the real product
1 1/2 t. vanilla to enhance your product’s feature set
1 12-oz bag chocolate chips for making a product special and rewarding
1 c. rough chop nuts because if you’re an entrepreneur, you’re probably nuts anyway
1. Preheat your idea to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Knowing the temperature of the environment is so important to your product. Bake an idea on low heat and you’ll miss the window of opportunity; turn up the heat too fast and you’ll burn (or worse, burn through your seed money).
2. Cream the butter and sugars until smooth. One thing people forget is that if you churn butter too long, it will make your cookies flat and shapeless. Make user interactions smooth, but, don’t over-cream. Instead, firmly lead users to the actions you want them to take (a purchase, a comment, social sharing). Drop every barrier to entry, but be sure to not leave them flat and directionless.
3. Add eggs, one-at-a-time. Eggs bind everything together. This is the place I believe that a great marketer is key. Bring all the elements of technology, a great story, and, clean UI together into a cohesive product. Look at the #tcdisrupt finalists including my favorites, CakeHealth, Bitcasa, Trello, they each have the same binding principals, even though their stories and companies are vastly different. Bind the product together by hiring a great marketer to bring it together.
4. Measure vanilla, and then let it drip a bit over the top. Vanilla is one of those secret ingredients. Taste it on its own and your tongue curls, but leave it out of the perfect chocolate chip cookie, and you’re missing the aroma. I always measure one teaspoon, then let it dribble a bit more into the bowl. The same goes for highlighting your feature sets. Throw your capabilities at a customer and they’ll be left bitter. But give them the aroma of what your product can do for them and they’ll be following the aroma all the way into becoming a repeat customer. Otherwise: don’t oversell your features.
5. Add the dry ingredients. People say to sift the dry ingredients to incorporate. I don’t. I like to gently add them in at a really slow rate, watching them fold into a slow-churning stand mixer. The flour comes first, of course. The ultimate stabilizer is your core product, your core technology and your stable financials. Even if it’s in early beta, it’s still got to be stable enough to hold all the other yummy ingredients together.
Next, I put in the salt. I love salt in cookies. A cookie without enough salt means it’s all too sweet — and that’s just not a reality for a startup. Be ready to take a grain of salt with all of your feedback. That means, be ready to iterate, change and be a grownup enough to handle it when it comes. And it will.
Lastly, I add in the baking soda. I measure this so carefully (really the only thing I strictly measure). Your growth plan — whatever it is — needs to be measured very carefully. What is your rate of growth, how do you plan to scale, and, can your flour and butter and eggs handle how much rise you are giving to it? A growth plan is so much more precise than you can imagine when you’re drawing out little PowerPoint charts of hockey stick-looking growth (Oh, and so is accuracy, which I unfortunately learned once when a VC modeled our market expectations and we had ourselves with a user base larger than the population of China within six years).
6. Take a deep breath and look at your batter. Solid, creamy, full of promise. Now, add the magic and dump in those little chocolate chip morsels. It wasn’t a chocolate chip cookie without the chocolate chips, was it? This is your differentiator, your money call, your 12-minute TechCrunch Disrupt finalists pitch. After all that building and binding, make sure that you didn’t forget why you started all this in the first place — and make sure there’s plenty of that morsel of awesomeness that makes a chocolate chip cookie a chocolate chip cookie and what makes your startup yours.
7. Add the nuts. Not sure about this last step? Trust me. Why the nuts? Some people love nuts, others hate them! Some have anaphylactic shock from nuts. You could kill someone if you add this in! I say add the nuts. Because it takes a little bit of crazy to be an entrepreneur who is willing to take the big risk.
8. Scoop a tablespoon of dough onto baking sheets and put into the oven. It’s ready to go-to-market. The temperature is just right. You have a product ready to go. Bake for eight minutes or until you get traction and the product has risen enough to take it out of the incubation. Some folks cool their cookies completely, but I don’t – a warm, baked idea is wildly desirable and everyone wants a hot cookie — get your product to investors while it’s hot.
9. Make sure no one is looking and put your fingers in the leftover dough, and sneak it in your mouth. You made all that yumminess.
So many ideas, so many companies make it to this point and not beyond. And that’s okay. I keep non-baked cookie dough in my fridge at all times, just like I’ve got new business ideas rattling around in my head all the time. There is little that tastes as good as homemade cookie dough. Somehow the magic of bringing everything together can be more rewarding than a fully baked product. Lick your fingers and enjoy — you’ve created something that has all the fundamentals of the perfectly balanced startup.
Nom, nom, nom.
I learned about SCRUM last year when @la_gringa moved to a SCRUM model with her engineering team and got excited about the simplicity, the huddle-up approach and the ability to be successful in small chunks, working up to a large chunk of success. And although it applies mostly to agile development systems and theories, the same application can be applied to startups.
I’ve had a killer engineer walk out on me after I was (correctly) accused of changing directions for the umpteenth time. I’ve watched exhaustion hit teams of awesome folks after scrambling toward Beta. I’ve pushed things in and out of priority in fear of exceeding my monthly burn rate. I’ve seen frustation from product owners and developers who are kept from using emerging technologies because previous decisions have already determined the course. SCRUM helps curb eager entrepreneurs and keep focus.
The concept of SCRUM works for startups because, we simply can’t afford to do anything else. Streamlined communication, quick huddles, sprints and backlogs work for us marketeers and entrepreneurs too.
1. Ownership. As startup minds, we tend to own a lot of pieces of a project. Letting ownership creep into other vital parts of the business (say, um, sales), slows down the process and keeps the owners from having command and control over their domains. The next time you, the entrepreneur, thinks your hand belongs in every piece of the pie, remember: you are not the owner of ever piece of the process and meddling in someone else’s sandbox can extend the production process and cause development lags. So hand it over, honey, and let the project owners own. If you can’t do it, be your own SCRUM master and whip yourself a few lashes.
2. Define your SCRUM team. Cross-function is key for us. We’re startups, afterall. But not every function crosses over at the same time or on the same sprint. Assemble the teams, assign the backlog and sprint like hell. Rinse and repeat. This means that each piece of a solution is represented by the person who can accomplish the sprint’s task for their specialty. I bet you’ll put yourself at the tippy top of each of those. When that happens, remember that you and you alone do not a SCRUM team make.
3. Sprint and sweat. I remember one of our first clients who wanted to be able to play with his prototype as we went along. Crazy! How could we have one whole chunk of the process finished enough for him to tap around on?! Sprints make a lot of sense for startups. The end-product (and the audience it serves) is a moving target. Competition, client needs and learnings all keep things fluid. Overall the product is moving in a forward direction. In a sprint, you bust ass on one thing with no interruptions or changes for about two weeks. Then you huddle-up and check-in. A sprint gets one.thing.done.completely. Put a few sprints together and you’ve got yourself a product.
4. Burndown, not burnout. A great VC told me to put a stake in the ground and move forward from it. The burndown chart is a visual way to track what is left to do during a sprint (and during a full backlog cycle). As a marketer I like the burndown chart because it shows us where we’ve come from and what we’ve got left to do. It puts all of us team members, team leaders and product owners on the same page. We know what we’ve done (YAY us!) and what’s left to do (time to bust-a-move).
5. The Daily Bread. SCRUM meetings are an ADD’d out, caffeine-deficient person’s heaven. A daily 15-minute meeting with three questions for each person: (a) What have you done since yesterday? (b) What will you do today? (c) Is there anything standing in your way today? I love this method. For entrepreneurs, we have a truckload of things to do in a day. Are you kidding me? But apply a daily SCRUM approach to your day, to your team and create an environment where everyone is on the same page. When you’re head-down in building at the speed of light, it feels good to know where everyone else stands.
Applying SCRUM to a startup environment creates a sense of ownership, but not dictatorship. It protects the process (the sprint process and the greater product). SCRUM determines the collective path and knocks back daunting tasks by breaking it down into chunks of successful sprints. It shows you where you’ve come from as a startup, as a series of smaller teams and as a lean response team. We don’t code in a box. We don’t sell in a bubble. We don’t market in a funnel. We huddle, we call the play and we play it.